Law and Sexual Misconduct in New England, 1650-1750 : Steering Toward England book cover
1st Edition

Law and Sexual Misconduct in New England, 1650-1750
Steering Toward England

ISBN 9781472461926
Published February 9, 2016 by Routledge
200 Pages

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Book Description

Having arriving in the Province of Maine in 1641 with a brief to create both government and law for the fledgling colony, Thomas Gorges later recorded his policy as having ’steared as neere as we could to the course of Ingland’. Over the course of the next century the various colonial administrations all consciously measured their laws against that of England, whether their intention was imitation of or conscious opposition to, established English legal system. In order to trace the shifting and contested relationships between colonial laws and English laws, this book focuses on the prosecution of sexual misconduct. All crimes can threaten orderly society but no other crime posed quite the same long term implications as illicit sex resulting in the birth of illegitimate children who became their own social challenges. Sexual misconduct was, consequently, a major concern for early modern leaders, making it a particularly fruitful subject for studying the complex relationship between laws in England and laws in the English colonies. Political and ecclesiastical leaders create laws to coerce people to behave in a certain fashion and to convey wider messages about the societies they govern. When those same laws are broken, lawbreakers must be tried and punished by a means intended to serve as a warning to other would-be lawbreakers. In this book the two-part analysis of changing sexual misconduct laws and the resulting trial depositions highlights the ways in which ordinary New England colonists across New England both interacted with and responded to the growing Anglicization of their legal systems and makes the argument that these men and women saw themselves as taking part in a much larger process.

Table of Contents

Preface; Introduction; Founding law in Massachusetts Bay, Maine, and Rhode Island; Evolving law in England and its influence on New England; ‘Exposing our children, to be bred ignorantly like Indians’: frontier peripheries and cross-cultural sexual contact; ‘He shall be liable to the charge of maintenance’: morals, economics, and illegitimate children in New England communities; ‘The court doe own him her aturney’: justices, attorneys, and the New England court room; ‘The said Margaret prays process against him’: public and private lives in New England court rooms; Conclusion; Appendices; References; Index.

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Abby Chandler is Assistant Professor of Early American History at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She is currently working on her next book project which will examine the use of English legal traditions in political rebellions during the 1760s.


"An excellent feature of this book is its informative appendices, which document the ways that heterosexual misconduct was charged and punished... The decision to include these lists reflects the author’s admirable determination to bring the colonial era to life by listening for people’s voices in court records, in their own plain speech. Chandler makes a strong case that historical change in early North America happened not just when colonial elites spoke, but also in the minds and words of the common people. Her book will interest scholars of early modern gender and sexuality, the law, and the social history of early North America." - Ann M. Little, Colorado State University, USA